WATCHING GREG CLARKE, the resigned Football Association chairman, stumbling through a miasma of supposedly offensive descriptions of human diversity I remembered my own dear father, clueless and embarrassed, toppling time after time into the mantrap of grammatical racism which his advanced years and a more enlightened 1960s Britain had conspired to set for him.
It is, of course, more than a ‘generation thing’. But in Clarke, a man nine years younger even than I am now, I sense the confusion over the politics of discriminatory description that befell my dad.
In that age of the Windrush generation prime time BBC shows Till Death Us Do Part and The Black and White Minstrel Show topped the TV ratings. But our culture was beginning a rapid cultural change.
“You can’t call black people negroes, dad!” my father’s exasperated, grammar school-liberated son would exclaim like the snotty-nosed sod that he was.
“Well what do I call them?”
“Them? THEM? They are people like us, dad, just with different skin colour and sometimes different culture and customs.” To my shame, I can still hear that holier-than-thou teenager lecturing the Second World War Tommy.
Even he had seen change: he scoffed at the irony of his own mother’s iron-clad socialist belief in equality that stopped at her front doorstep, over which threshold she would permit neither Conservative nor Catholic to cross. But his own view was equally skewed when it came to our modern-day absorption of Empire and the peoples Britain had once ‘ruled’. To his generation, the word coloured seemed a much gentler description than ‘black’.
It is my turn now: if (to employ that over-used pre-apologetic phrase) I am honest, I have a similar difficulty in coming to terms with the acronyms and ‘new words’ that litter modern conversation.
“What do you mean when you write ‘She was woke’?” I asked my writer/restaurateur son, critical of a short story he’d had published about life in Ghana. “Don’t you mean awakened?”
He sighed, “I’ll text you the dictionary definition.”
And he did: ‘Woke (adjective): alert to injustice in society, especially racism; e.g. “We need to stay angry, and stay woke”.’ So who knew?
Similarly, the acronym ‘BAME’ had me baffled. “Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic,” snapped my daughter, the Guardianista. “It’s the correct way to refer to members of non-white communities in the UK,” she said. “You MUST have heard it before now. Even the Daily Telegraph uses BAME,” she added, reprovingly.
Between me and my daughter, the sexual revolution is a continual source of conflict. No, I fervently DO NOT agree with the outgoing FA chairman that homosexuality is a “life choice”, but I do frequently fall into a hole over the continually-lengthened acronym LBTQI which means, the Guardianista tells me (take a deep breath): lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning), and intersex.
Give it thirty or forty years, I told my kids, and you will be in the same boat as your grandfather and Greg Clarke and I found ourselves: out of time and out of touch.
“It’s happened to me already,” admitted my thirty-something-year-old son glumly. “I overhead a friend in the restaurant (in Accra) criticising “the white gays” and I rounded on him for his closed mind and illiberal attitudes.
“Turned out he was talking about something called “the white GAZE” which apparently describes the perceptions of reality held by a racially dominant group; for instance, in the USA white cultural norms hold sway.
“I just wasn’t on his wavelength, the latest ‘thing’ was a new one on me. . . I couldn’t believe I was so out of touch.”
Hard luck, son: what goes around comes around!
What have geologists done that has made them the plat du jour of the wolf world? A cluster of nervous letters to The Times from rock-hunting academics followed a report that Natural England is proposing the reintroduction of wolves into England.
The emeritus professor of geology at Imperial College, London, wrote that ‘while alone atop a boulder in the Sahara, I had to defend myself from a circling wolf armed with nothing more than a geological hammer. I threw it at the wolf, which retreated but came back.”
Terrified, he continued to hurl rocks at the wolf as he crept towards his Land Rover 50 metres away while the beast crept ever closer.
“The roar of the engine as I drove off was one of the nicest sounds I have ever heard,” he concluded.
Geologists worldwide have got the willies: “I, too, am a geologist and have encountered wolves during the course of my work,” wrote a second reader.
“I used to wear bells to to scare wolves and bears away as I walked alone through the Canadian bush but I had a close encounter once when eating my lunch on a bluff overlooking a lake. The wolf entered the clearing some ten yards from me, sniffed the air, stared at me directly for what seemed an eternity and then, much to my relief, walked off.”
Natural England can clearly expect little support for its plan from academia’s Rock Tappers and Hunters Club and even less from the nation’s livestock farmers. Perhaps before reintroducing wolves we’d be better advised to look after our existing wildlife: hedgehogs have dwindled by 30 million in my lifetime to a remaining one million, a sad indictment of our responsibilities to wildlife.
Or is there a compromise to be had between urban romantics and sceptical farmers: bring back the wolves but only after repealing the 2004 Hunting Act so that they can be hunted with hounds?
Round-robin read best!
Whatever will we do for round-robins this Christmas? Lockdown has condemned populations worldwide to a diet of long walks and endless gardening: no family reunions to describe in detail, no holiday snaps, no exam successes (“Tristram scored a wonderful NINE A-stars this year and Jocasta is reading at four!”).
We look forward to our annual catch-up with friends in New Zealand, Australia and America, although regular lockdown Zoom meetings online have probably replaced what one unkind neighbour described as AWM (Aren’t We Marvellous?) messages.
So friends, if you’re reading this – a column which might, I suppose, be described as a round-the-world robin – don’t abandon the Christmas catch-up!
And finally. . .
Just imagine if a lockdown had cancelled the fete at St Peter’s Church in Woolton, Liverpool, on July 6, 1957: 15-year-old Paul McCartney would not have been introduced to a local skiffle group and its lead singer, 17-year-old John Lennon
Imagine what we would have lost.